Questions Concerning the
Haitian Revolution and Its Impact in the Spanish Caribbean

Michael C. Twomey

Historical Concealment Of Colonial Slave Rebellions

    In his article, The Enigma of Jamaica in the 1790s: New Light on the Causes of Slave Rebellions1, David Geggus contends that; "It was precisely during the Age of Revolution (1776-1815), when French St. Domingue experienced the most successful slave revolt of all time, that the frequency of slave rebellions and conspiracies reached an all-time low in the British colonies. The case of Jamaica appears especially enigmatic. That islands slaves made an impressive record of violent resistance :from the seventeenth century to the 18308. Yet during the 1790s, a decade that brought not only massive uprisings in neighboring St. Domingue but also the epochal abolition of slavery by the French Republic." On the other hand, and contrary to this statement, we find two rebellions taking place during the 1790s in Jamaica according to the Table in Jan Rogozinski's book.2 The contrary information documented by each author raises several questions, several of which are listed below: "Someroulos is rehearsing a strategy that we will find time and again in the elite's dealings with slave rebellions and events potentially linked to Haiti. He reaffirms the hemispheric bonds of colonialliml that link Cuba to Spain and denies any coniiections that would violate the boundaries of empire."
The Impact of the Haitian Slave Revolution on Mainland South America

    The various criteria by which countries come to be termed as "Caribbean" are as varied as the countries thusly labeled. In general tenns any nation which has a coastline on the Caribbean may justly be called a Caribbean Nation. Applying this broad geographical generalization the South American nations of Colombia and Venezuela are well within the geographical scope of this project. More important than a mere geographical compatibility however, is the historical connection between both nations in their fight for independence from Spain, and the Haitian slave revolution. During his lowest hours, when he had nowhere else to turn for succor, Simon Bolivar twice landed on Haiti, and was on each occasion re-supplied, re-armed and rejuvenated. Without the aide Bolivar received from Haiti his quest for independence from Spain would have been a much prolonged, more bloody affair than it was. That is, if it coUld have succeeded at all.
    1815 found Simon Bolivar in Haiti attempting to secure the backing of President Petion in his fight against Spain. A similar appeal for aid from the British on Jamaica had been unsuccessful, and Bolivar finally fled to Haiti after narrowly escaping several attempts on his life.4  Initially Petion was reluctant to provide Bolivar aide against the Spanish, but he finally relented. Petion's agreement however, was conditional on the understanding that, in the words of Albert Prago, Bolivar would "take immediate steps to abolish slavery.  The Liberator accepted the condition: when he implemented the promise shortly after returning to the mainland, the rewards were great for the patriot annies."5
    Eventually, with the aide provided by Petion and others, Bolivar was able to fit out an expedition consisting of "six schooners and a sloop - 250 men, mostly officers, and arms for 6,000 troops."6  He set sail on March 31, 1816 amidst the pageantry of full dress uniforms and salutes fired from guns on shore as he sailed past.7  Unfortunately, the campaigan did not progress as splendidly as had the expeditions departure.  Bickering and feuding amoung the leaders of the expedition forced Bolivar to return to Haiti after a few small initial successes. Once again the freedom of much of the South American mainland depended on the generosity of the former slave colony. Petion re-supplied Bolivar's force, and the Liberator once again sailed for the mainland and his destiny.  
    Although Petion's conditions for supplying Bolivar's expedition were not honored for many years after the Spanish defeat, the fact that he imposed them clearly indicates a desire to spread freedom to those enslaved elsewhere. Considering the aide Bolivar received from Haiti, one would suppose he would hold the people of that nation in high esteem. As we can see from his letters below however, this was not always the case. In the lands which Bolivar :freed, the color of a persons skin became all important. Although he praised the Haitian's military achievements on occasion, overall his comments regarding the only nation which helped him in his time of need were negative. This ungrateful behavior on the part of Bolivar raises many questions, several of which may be found directly after the section of letters.

Letters written by Simon Bolivar the "Liberator" to Gener Paulo Santander. Vice President of Colombia.
"It is born out of the maxims of politics and derived from the examples of history that any free government which commits the folly of maintaining slavery is repaid with rebellion and sometimes with collapse, as in Haiti."8
"As for the slaves, if the hornets nest is stirred up the resuh will be similar to that of Haiti. The greed of the colonist caused that revolution, after the French Republic decreed emancipation and the colonists spurned it. By their recalcitrance and stubbornness they spurred their natural enemies into action. The impetus to our revolution has been given, and no-one can know restrain it, the most that can be done is to give it proper direction. The example of freedom is alluring, and that of domestic freedom is insistent and compelling."9
"I then cast my eyes over the endless coastline of Colombia, threatened by the fleets of every nation, by the Europeans whose colonies surround us, and by the Africans of Haiti whose strength is mightier than primeval fire."10 "The wars in Russia and Haiti should be our model on some points, but without the terrible type of self-destruction that those countries adopted."11 "Never forget the three political admonitions that I have ventured to give you; first, it will not be to our advantage to admit La Plata to the league; second, or the United States of America; third, do not attempt to liberate Havanna. These three points seem to me to be of the greatest importance. I believe our league can maintain itself perfectly wen without embracing the extremes of the South and the North and without creating another Republic of Haiti (in Cuba)."12

Letters from Simon Bolivar to the Congress of Bolivia "The island of Haiti, if you will permit the digression, was in a state of perpetual insurrection. Having experimented with an empire, a kingdom, and a republic, in fact every known type of government and more besides, the people were compelled to call upon the illustrious Petion to save them. After they had put their trust in him, Haiti's destinies pursued a steady course. Petion was made president for life, with the right to choose his successor. Thus neither the death of that great man nor the advent of a new president imperiled that state in the slightest. Under the worthy Boyer, everything has proceeded as tranquilly as in a legitimate monarchy. There you have conclusive proof that a life-term president, with the power to choose his successor, is the most sublime inspiration amongst republican regimes."13

    When examining these letters one must remember that Bolivar was a rich landowning, slave master, who was proud of his Spanish lineage.  One must then ask if the views Bolivar expressed were inspired by Petion, inspired by political necessity, or inspired by genuine anti-slavery beliefs?  For exzample, is his comments in the letter written on December 23,1822; concerning the strength of Haiti, and the vulnembility of Colombia, refering to an actual military threat posed by Haiti, or does Bolivar reveal his concerns about being overwhelmed by slaves who are following the example of the Haitian Revolution?  And by linking Haiti with a power such as Russia, is Bolivar complimenting Haiti or denigrating it?  Written almost a year apart, the letters of May 10th, 1825 and May 25th, 1826 portray contradicting views of Haiti, why the wish to exclude in the 1925 letter while the praise in 1926?

International Recognition of the Republic of Haiti

    After years of conflict with France, the people of Haiti declared themselves an independent Republic on January 1st, 1804. Instead of being welcomed into the family of nations however, Haiti was long ignored by the major European powers, and even longer ignored by the United States of America. As early as 1823, Britain recognized the independence of many of Spain's erstwhile colonies, Haiti was not formally recognized until1825. This was 21 years after they had achieved their actual independence. France waited until 1838 to acknowledge Haitian independence, and this was only obtained at the cost of a large indemnity and a 50% reduction in import duties.14  Despite the slow pace of international recognition however, by 1860, an important countries had representatives in Haiti. That is all nations except the United States of America. Why was the United States of America unwilling or unable to acknowledge Haiti as an independent nation?  The answer lies in the United States of America's retention of slavery. The fact is that the U.S. could not acknowledge the independence of a nation of former slaves while half of their own nation was under the control of slave owners.
    Therefore it wasn't until the southern U.S. slave owning states were on the verge of defeat during the American Civil War that a treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation could be signed with Haiti. This occurred on November 1864,15 more than sixty years after Haiti had actually gained its independence.


1 Geggus, David. "The Enigma of Jamaica in the 1790s: New Light on the Causes of Slave Rebellions." The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 44, No.2 (Apr., 1987): 274-299. Online via JSTOR. <> (February 1,2005). Page 274.
2 Rogozinski, Jan. "A Brief History Of The Caribbean; From The Arawak And The Carib To The Present." New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1992. Page 159.

3 Fischer, Sibylle. "Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the age of Revolution." Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. Page 42.
4 Trend, J.B. Bolivar; And The independence Of Spanish America. Clinton, Massachusetts: Press Inc., 1951. Page 97.
5 Prago, Albert. The Revolutions in Spanish America; The ]ndependence Movements Of 1808-1825. New York: The Macmillan Company,1970. Page 194.
6 Worcester, Donald, E. Bolivar. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1977. Page 66.
7 Rourke, Thomas. "Man of Glory; Simon Bolivar." Safety Harbor, Florida: William Morrow &
Company, Inc., 1939. Page 154.

8 Bierck, Harold A jr ., edited by. "Selected Writings of Bolivar Volumes 1 &2." New York: The Colonial Press Inc., 1951. Page 223. ,
9 Ibid. Page 229.

10 Ibid. Page 307.
11 Ibid. page 483.
12 Ibid. Page 499.

13 Ibid. Page 596.
14 Ibid. Page 576 (footnote).
15 Wesley, Charles H.. "The Struggle for the Recognition of Haiti and Liberia as Independent Republics." The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 2, No.4  (Oct., 1917): 369-383. Online via JSTOR <> (February 6, 2005).

Artical © 2005 Michael C. Twomey.